Movie Article

Vanishing Act

''Arthur and the Invisibles'' left our senior associate editor's kids wanting more — their mother, however, was less impressed with this uneven animated adventure. Plus: Magic lessons on DVD, and two new books

Arthur and the Invisibles | Arthur and the Invisibles
Arthur and the Invisibles

''Arthur and the Invisibles'' disappoints

DVD

Arthur and the Invisibles
(PG, 94 mins., 2007)
This is one of those movies that created a split decision in our house — my kids loved it, I liked it...not so much. The latest film from Fifth Element director Luc Besson (adapted from his children's books) starts out promisingly enough, in a live-action world, where earnest ten-year-old Arthur (Finding Neverland's Freddie Highmore) has assigned himself a formidable task: saving the home he shares with his grandmother (a convincingly distracted Mia Farrow) from a nasty developer by finding the rubies (a gift from a grateful African tribe) his missing granddad buried in the backyard. You actually feel something for the lad, whose parents are off in the ''city'' trying to find work, and are never home for his birthdays.

But when the story shifts into a rather strange (and CG-animated) world, risks losing its audience. Scouring his grandfather's books and notes, Arthur discovers that the buried jewels may lie within a secret underworld of garden gnomes called the Minimoys. When he goes down under, he changes into a white-haired adolescent punk — not even remotely resembling his former self. (I found this transformation unnecessarily confusing, Besson should have taken a page from James and the Giant Peach on this one.) Jumping from a borrowed tale (accepting a challenge to fight the Minimoys' enemies, Arthur actually pulls a sword out of a stone) to disjointed, bizarre dance scenes (he hangs with a Rasta dwarf and develops a crush on a Minimoy princess named Selenia, voiced, respectively, by Snoop Dogg and a 48-year-old Madonna), almost leaves the viewer wanting to see more of Arthur's grandmother shrieking his name from the porch.

Indeed, it is a shame that such high-octane vocal talent (Robert De Niro as King of the Minimoys, Jimmy Fallon as Selenia's brother) is basically wasted; only David Bowie, playing the evil M, delivers his lines with any bite. Still, with the talented Highmore in the lead, it can't hurt for kids to see one of their own saving the day — and learning about Roman viaducts to boot. B-Eileen Clarke
Recommended ages: 4 and up

Learning Magic With Lyn
(53 mins., 2007)
If ever there is a case for not judging a book by its cover, or in this example a DVD, it's here. At first glance, illusionist's Lyn Dillies' instructional video looks a bit hokey, a bit too homemade — but it turns out to be a deceptively clever effort that kids will love. She first demonstrates and then explains almost a dozen tricks, from magic ribbons to disappearing coins and everything in-between, showing children how, with little more than paper and glue in most cases, they can dazzle their friends with their newly acquired abilities. Dillies does break two of her own rules here — a magician never tells her secrets or repeats a trick — but all those budding David Blaines out there will be grateful that she did. A-EC
Recommended ages: 7 and up

BOOKS

Dogs and Cats
By Steve Jenkins
Caldecott winner Jenkins has created another beautiful book of his spare, layered collages — or should I say two books, since this is in fact a double-dipper. Open it from one side and read all about dogs — their history, the different breeds, how they express themselves, and so on — or flip it over and start from the other side and read the same about cats. Why do dogs bury bones? What does a cat's twitching tail mean? Jenkins has created a veritable encyclopedia of fascinating pet facts. ''Hey!'' exclaimed my 7-year-old neighbor, after I showed him the book. ''Guess how old the oldest living dog was?'' and then, a moment later, ''Guess how small the smallest dog ever was?'' and on...and on. He was hooked, and so, I guess, was I. ATina Jordan
Recommended ages: 6-10

Bad Tickets
By Kathleen O'Dell
It's 1967, and Mary Margaret Hallinan, 16 — who's gone to six masses a week since first grade — is beginning to question a lot in her life, and not just her education at Sacred Heart Academy. Her new best friend, Jane, who was expelled from her last Catholic school, is getting her into a lot of trouble. Their experimentation leads them to unsupervised pool parties, lots of hastily lit Kools, even a little pot smoking and hitchhiking. But Mary Margaret is not the reckless type. The experimentation — which she holds back on every time, letting Jane take the lead — isn't reckless on her part. She's simply determined to find out who she is, and what she wants from life — and although she's going about it in a haphazard way, she's a good kid. She knows one thing: She does not want to be like her mother, a bitter woman whose life is nothing but drudgery and diapers. (When Mary Margaret's father asks his wife to cut out cigarettes, her only pleasure, she retaliates by serving beef heart for dinner. '''You said to cut down on expenses,' Mother says. 'And you refuse to take a bag lunch. So instead of giving up my cigarettes as you suggested, I'm going for cheaper cuts.' Her smile is overly wide.'') Mary Margaret does, ultimately, figure things out for herself; she's a strong girl, someone who will never simply let things happen to her. What better role model for young teens? Don't be put off by the book jacket — a miniskirted Catholic girl in uniform, back to the camera. It's much more provocative than the book itself. ATJ
Recommended ages: 12-16

Originally posted May 16, 2007
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